Bharatnatyam is one of the most popular dances of India. It is believed that Brahma, the supreme Creator, created Natya by taking literature from the Rig Veda, songs from the Sama Veda, abhinaya or expression from the Yajur Veda and rasa or aesthetic experience from the Arthava Veda. Natya speaks in great detail of the different kinds of postures, facial expressions, mudra or hand expressions, including the attire and ornaments to be used. All the dance forms are structured around the nine rasas or emotions. They are hasya (happiness), shoka (sorrow), krodha (anger), karuna (compassion), bhibasta (disgust), adhbhuta (wonder) bhaya (fear), vikram (courage) and shanta (serenity).
The uniqueness of Indian classical dances, is that they are all devotional in content. In fact Bharata Natyam one of the most important traditional Indian dances was till the early 20th century, only performed by `devadasis or maids of God`, in temples. Almost every village has its own folk dance, which is performed by the village folk itself.
These are performed on festivals, ceremonies, special occasions, etc. All night dance dramas are popular throughout India and mark all the major festivals. This dance is the oldest of the Indian classical dance forms, and its origin can be traced to Bharatha`s Natya Shastra. It is a very traditional and stylized dance form. Strict about the techniques used in performing, it disallows any kind of innovations except in the repertoire forms of presentation.
It developed in South India, in its present form, two hundred years ago. The musicians of the Tanjore court of the 18th and 19th centuries, lent the thematic as well as musical content to the dance. It is essentially a solo dance and has close affinities with the traditional dance-drama form called Bhagvat Mela performed only by men, and folk operettas called Kuruvanji performed only by women.